Blood: The Last Vampire [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Anchor Bay Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan C. Stevenson (13th December 2009).
The Film

Almost ten years before the bloated and awful live action adaptation (which shares the same name with it’s predecessor) appeared on movie screens to more boos and less cheers, 2000's animated original “Blood: The Last Vampire” did the exact opposite. When it arrived on the scene, the original film was especially praised for its unique integration of 2D and 3D animation, something accomplished by the then groundbreaking all digital production technique. The method was later used in the re-release of “Ghost in the Shell” (also known as “Ghost in the Shell 2.0” (2008)), another acclaimed anime, released by the same company, Production I.G.

Set in October 1966, in (quite obviously) post-WWII Japan, “Blood: The Last Vampire” follows Saya (voiced by Youki Kudoh), a young vampire who works for a mysterious government agency known as Red Shield. I found it interesting that, except for her pale skin, youthful appearance and a dislike for all things religious, Saya is not the stereotypical vamp; apparently sunlight does her no harm, and I’m not even sure she has fangs. Instead, she is a doer of good, who uses her super strength, agility and heightened senses to serve the whole of mankind, hunting down and decapitating (with a katana) blood sucking bat-like creatures known as Chiroptera. Not exactly keen on contact with human, one of the few people that Saya trusts (and tolerates) is David (Joe Romersa), her handler and confidant.

When word spreads that the Chiroptera, who can fake human form, may have infiltrated the high school on the Yokota Air Force Base, an American military instillation, David arranges for Saya to pose as a perspective student, complete with school girl outfit and all. It just so happens that the day Saya enrolls is Halloween, and in the chaos of the night’s festivities, the winged, monsters make their move. What ensues is a non-stop action-horror extravaganza, as Saya (and to a lesser extent, David and his agents) try and find the Chiropterans before they can murder another student.

There was a lot that I liked about “Blood: The Last Vampire.” First of all, a majority of the film is natively in English, with only minor, appropriate use of Japanese dialogue (which is subtitled), and this makes “Blood” an easily accessible film for the uninitiated. Secondly, the film is simply gorgeous; the art direction, and style, is heavily influenced by film noir, with excellent use of shadows. Also, the film blends it’s 2D and 3D sequences together artfully, making for a textured, attractive look. But, mostly what I liked about the film was the story and the characters. Saya is acerbic and antisocial, which is humorous in a dark sort of way, and one of the films other characters, a school nurse (voiced by Saemi Nakamura), adds a light hearted, and fun element to the film, as an outsider who screams in terror at every plot development, as winged creatures and a vampire girl, wreak havoc on her quiet life. Screenwriter Kenji Kamiyama and director Hiroyuki Kitakubo produce a rapid-fire product, that’s been trimmed of all the excess fat that would usually hold up the narrative flow, allowing the film to get right on down to business. It’s tight and compact, in a no-nonsense sort of way, allowing the film to pass by in a brisk 48 minutes. This short runtime is, in a way, a huge strength of the film (although it is also it’s downfall; see below). As a testament to the films quality, I should let it be known that usually I am not one for anime, and yet, “Blood” was able to captivate and entertain me.

However, there are many things that I did not like about the film. Chiefly, the voice work is terrible. Most of the actors read their lines without emotion, and as though they are reading the words, for the first time, directly from the page. I’ll admit that I did like the free flowing and natural way that the English and Japanese languages ran together, but that’s about it. The actors supplying the voices for the American agents are especially terrible, including, unfortunately, Joe Romersa’s “David”. The voice of Saya is dry and removed, but it sort of works for the character, and Kudoh does have one scene, as she screams “Daaaviiid!” where it comes across as genuine and emotional, but that’s about it. Secondly, the films runtime does serve as problematic. The rapid-fire pace makes for intense action, but, although the story is straight, and to the point, it also lacks context and depth. Watching the film, it feels as though the viewer is being shown only the middle of the story. There is no explanation as to Saya’s connection to the government agency; how she came to work for them and what her background is isn’t touched upon at all. Also, we have no real understanding of what exactly the Chiroptera are, and how they came to be, isn’t made clear at all (are, they vampires who evolved into something more?). Also, the plot is occasionally a bit odd. One moment, Saya is battling two monsters on the base, and then we cut away to some bar in the city, were a woman sets fire to the structure and morphs into her true Chiropteran form. Why? How? What is going on? Does that mean that there are more Chiroptera hiding in plain sight in the city? Suddenly, the creature heads for the base and Saya is battling it too. What’s the purpose of all that other than to add another foe for Saya to fight?

At the end of the short feature, I was left with a desire to know more about the universe in which the story exists. The film feels sort of like a pilot to a grander TV series (or more movies), and that is it’s biggest downfall. It’s entertaining and extremely well made, but the film lacks completion. Saya’s story is in desperate need for a sequel. A true real sequel, made by the same people in the same way; I don’t want to be forced to go read a Manga, light novel, or seek out the alternate universe television series, called “Blood+” (2005-2006), which shares little in common with this original film, find out more. I want another movie; a sequel. Sadly, as the film is almost ten years old, and has been adapted into live action, I see little chance of a final chapter appearing in animated form, and that’s unfortunate, because the lack of context devalues an otherwise good film.

Video

There are two versions of the film on one disc, using separate encodes. The first version, the default on the disc, is a newly remastered transfer, sourced from a 35mm interpositive, presented in 1.85:1 widescreen via a 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encode, with an average bitrate of 28 Mbps. This so-called “Telecine Version” has numerous characteristics that set it apart from the digital edit also found on the disc. First of all, despite “Blood: The Last Vampire” being an entirely digital production (which uses CG extensively), the 35mm transfer presents the film with a thin layer of unobtrusive grain, which gives the appearance of watching a theatrical print. Second, the occasionally speck or dirt fleck splashes across the screen for a second or two, a defect of sourcing the transfer from celluloid which ages. Lastly, the 35mm version of the film is generally softer looking when judged against the digital transfer.

In direct comparison, the included "digital-data version," sourced straight from the original computer files in a direct digital-to-digital transfer, also presented in 1080p AVC MPEG-4 1.85:1 framed high-definition, although this time with an average bitrate of around 20 Mbps, is different, but not all together better, than the default telecine edit. The digi-data version is a bit sharper, if only slightly so, with colors that are a tiny bit bolder, and a squeaky clean image that is grain (and debris) free. But, neither version of the film is the clear winner.

Both the 35mm telecine and digital versions suffer from frequent color banding and bursts of noise. Also, as is the case with most of the films of this (anime) style, the picture is generally soft and less detailed due to the “lighting” techniques, which regularly feature blooming and harsh tones. The image is bright, with respectable contrast, and inky, lush blacks, but the color palette is muted, and leans towards a brownish, grey hue. Lines are solid and defined, but occasionally I noticed a bit of minor aliasing in long shots. Still, like most animation on blu-ray, “Blood: The Last Vampire” looks pretty satisfying, appearing mostly to be an excellent presentation.

Audio

provided are two lossless, HD mixes on “Blood: The Last Vampire.” The film defaults to a superior English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (48kHz/24-bit/4 Mbps AVBR), which is incorrectly labeled on the package as generic DTS-HD; and a lesser English PCM 2.0 stereo mix (48kHz/24-bit/2.3 Mbps constant bitrate) is also included. For the purpose of this review I listened to the lossless DTS option, and sampled a few sequences with the PCM mix. As expected, the DTS track is far superior, thanks largely to the addition of the rear channels, which opens the film to the level of full-fledged, more modern sound design, compared to the archaic stereo option. The PCM track is then, while decent, with noticeable clarity and definition, a needless addition to the package.

“Blood: The Last Vampire” is an impressive sounding film, with a nice balance of out and out action effects, which are fully and forcefully spaced around the entire soundscape, and smaller, quieter moments. Set around a military base, the film is full of loud, impressive aircraft that take priority in creating a dramatic effect in the sound design. The numerous flyovers by C-130's rumble the LFE channel with a room shaking presence, and jets taxiing down the runway offer some wonderful pans, shifting from the rear speakers to the fronts, and eventually to the left or right (in whichever direction they turn after takeoff). The film also offers an excellent explosion or two and some resonant gunshots during the climax. Impressive for it’s forcefulness, but also for it’s subtlety, look no further than the Halloween dance sequence, as the school nurse realizes that one of the monsters is on the dance floor, or during her later interrogation by the Military; faint, very slight, effects are clear as day noticable, if subdued. I was amazed that above everything else, including dialog and music, I could still hear the slow ticking of a clock. And the score, composed by Yoshihiro Ike, is a nice anchor to the mix; it’s violin and big-band based melodies are crisp and clean, filling the 6 channels with accentuating tones that please the ears.

Although the film is produced primarily in English, there are quite a few sequences where Japanese characters speak in their native tongue; these moments contain non-removable English subtitles. No other language options are offered.

Extras

Supplements are slim but somewhat satisfying on “Blood: The Last Vampire.” The disc offers up a second encode of the film (just for kicks, I guess), a short making-of featurette and the original Japanese theatrical trailer. Unfortunately, while the second encode of the feature is rendered in full 1080p high-definition, the other two extras are presented in rather crummy looking MPEG-2 encoded, windowboxed 480/60i standard definition.

A smaller sized encode (around 10 GB) of an alternate digital-data version of the film is offered up as an extra. The story content is identical to the default telecine-based version, but visually the two encodes differ slightly in a few key areas; these subtle visual differences are discussed above in the video portion the review. This second encode offers the same audio options as the default transfer, with both an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and a PCM 2.0 stereo mix.

A solid look behind-the-scenes at creating the film can be found in “Making of Blood: The Last Vampire” featurette. The director, writer and producer discuss the long journey to get the film made, the groundbreaking CG work completed for the feature, among other topics. The clip is short, running 20 minutes 19 seconds, and a little haphazard in its presentation, appearing a little too choppy for my tastes, but this piece does its job fairly decently, providing some much insight into the production and giving fans a peek behind-the-scenes, via interviews and video footage shot during the production. Presented in Japanese, with forced English subtitles.

Finally, the original Japanese theatrical trailer is included. 1 minute 32 seconds. Presented in Japanese, with forced English subtitles.

Overall

“Blood: The Last Vampire” comes to Blu-ray in a standard blu-ray keep case. The disc is verified to be coded for both region A and B.

The Film: C Video: B Audio: A Extras: D Overall: C

 


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